Cohen’s ties to Novartis were first revealed after Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, published a dossier detailing financial transactions involving Cohen and his business entity, Essential Consultants LLC. Soon after, Novartis acknowledged that they had paid Cohen $1.2 million as a consultant for health care policy issues, signing him to a contract in February 2017. The company claimed that in March of that year, they realized that Cohen would not be able to help them and stopped dealing with him.
The Democrats’ report claims this is not the case, and that documents provided to them by Novartis support their conclusion. The report says that Cohen and Novartis’ then-CEO Joe Jiminez emailed and called each other from April to September 2017 regarding issues including the president’s drug pricing proposals. An early draft of Cohen’s contract reportedly specified that Novartis wanted him to get them “access to key policymakers” within President Trump’s administration. Cohen is said to have held himself out as the president’s attorney during and after the negotiations.
In June 2017, the report says, Jiminez sent Cohen a document titled “Drug Pricing Initiatives,” which presented ideas for how to lower drug costs. This came after Jiminez and and other pharmaceutical executives met with President Trump in January and administration officials in May to discuss how to reduce costs for patients.
In May 2018, President Trump released “American Patients First: The Trump Administration Blueprint to Lower Drug Prices and Reduce Out-of-Pocket Costs,” which included ideas from Jiminez’s “Drug Pricing Initiatives.” Some of the ideas were for how the FDA could speed up the process for getting generic drugs into the market.
The report also contradicts the notion that Novartis paid the full amount of Cohen’s contract and let it run out instead of terminating the agreement because they could not do so. The report states that the agreement contained clauses that would have let the company end payment based on inadequate performance.
The report was compiled by staff for Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Patty Murray (D-Washington), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut).
“What he was selling was a line of access to the Trump administration,” Wyden told ABC News. “That would be how I would characterize it.”
Despite the allegations in the report, Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis insists that there was nothing fishy about the arrangement with Novartis.
“Mr. Cohen, who never introduced anyone from Novartis to anyone in the administration or Congress, did not ‘sell access.’ As a consultant, he provided strategic advice to his client,” Cohen’s attorney Davis said.
A spokesperson for Novartis said that Cohen was never asked to do anything for the company after March 1, 2017, and that he did not do anything for them after that point.
“We disagree with the report’s conclusion that we issued a misleading public statement regarding the extent of our engagement with Mr. Cohen,” the representative said in a statement. “As we have already acknowledged, Novartis made a mistake in entering into the contract with Michael Cohen. And in hindsight – and certainly knowing everything we know now – we should have tried to terminate the contract with Mr. Cohen regardless of our views at the time of its legal enforceability.”
When information of Cohen’s deal with Novartis first came to light, it raised concerns that Cohen may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act if he was engaging in political activity on behalf of a foreign entity (Novartis is Swiss). The report does not make any claims that Cohen engaging in any active lobbying on behalf of the company, just that he made connections between between the Novartis and the administration.
[Image via HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images]
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